Training camp has not yet begun, yet the Steelers continue to make moves to fortify the team’s future.
Steelers.com announced this afternoon that the Pittsburgh Steelers have come to terms with tight end Heath Miller. According to the Post-Gazette, the deal includes a 12.5 million dollar signing bonus and totals 35.3 million dollars over six years.
Good Move for Both Sides
Drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft, Heath Miller has quietly emerged as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Miller’s future with the team has been the subject of intense speculation. Under normal circumstances Miller would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency, having played five seasons in the league.
However, if the NFL owners and the NFL Players Association do not reach an agreement to extend their current collective bargaining agreement before the 2009 season ends the salary cap will expire in 2010. At first blush an uncapped year appears to be a player’s dream.
But the deal contains a number of poison pills, one of which stipulates that players do not enter unrestricted free agency until they have played their sixth year.
The deal will keep Miller with the Steelers for the next six years, presumably the prime of his NFL career. While they most likely would have kept his services had he become a restricted free agent, one of the Daniel Snyders of the league could have offered a ridiculous deal that would have been impossible to match.
Miller could certainly have given him a shot at more money by waiting, but in waiting he would be running the risk of a major injury prior to reaching free agency. Instead, he opted to sign and secure the next several years of his future with the Steelers.
Heath Miller does not get the kind of press of a Tony Gonzales or (in his day) Shannon Sharpe, get, but his contributions to the Steelers are invaluable. Miller made an immedate impact as a rookie, and developed to the point where he’s caught just under fifty passes in each of the last two seasons.
And if his 2008 receiving average and touchdown total might be down a smidge, look no further than the AFC Championship game against Baltimore, where Miller averaged 20.7 yards on three catches, helping pick up the slack in the absence of Hines Ward.
Miller gives Ben Roethlisberger an escape valve under the middle, and has a knack for coming down with the ball in third down situations. Miller is also an exceptional run blocker, an area of the team that needs strengthening.
Last of Many?
Now that Miller has signed, the Steelers have 6 Steelers headed for unrestricted free agency unless their contracts are extended. The others are Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ryan Clark, Deshea Townsend, Tryone Carter, and Jeff Reed.
As bad as this sounds, the Steelers have greatly impoved this situation during the past off season, which included signing Hines Ward, James Harrison, and Max Starks to extensions, all three of whom would have become free agents in March 2010.
Most of the speculation on the remaining pool focused on Health Miller, as many pegged him as the most likely and the most desirable prospects to resign.
Pittsburgh would undoubtedly like to bank on the future services of several their other impending free agents, but the Steelers are unlikely to get many others under contract.
The Steelers have maneuvered with precious little cap space during the off season, and Miller’s signing along with the recent inking of first round draft pick Evander “Ziggy” Hood likely leaves the team with little room under the cap.
You can follow all of the off season’s Steelers free agent news by clicking on our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus tag.